Tweens Rise to the Occasion

Ballroom at Tween ABC

For the last six years, a group of authors I work with have held a writing conference for teenagers (ages 13 to 19) called Teen Author Boot Camp.  It is a daylong event and often we have people ask us how we dare spend 8 hours with a bunch of crazy teenagers. Yet we have never had a problem (and we’ve had as many as 750 teens at TABC). I fact, I’ve met teens  who I consider genuine friends and fellow authors.

This year, I felt the desire to put on a writing conference just for tweens (ages 9 to 12). I had a couple of people tell me I was absolutely insane—what with all of the ADHD, bullying, lack of respect, and such. After some of the feedback, I started to worry a bit as well.

dogtagLast night we held the first ever Tween Author Boot Camp. Almost 250 kids came to a conference for nearly five hours to learn how to write better. And guess what? They sat in their chairs. They listened. They took notes. They asked a very intelligent questions, and they gave brilliant answers.

I was impressed!

The kids did just as well as the teenagers in paying attention. The authors who taught were lively, and the classes lasted only 25 minutes instead of 40. The evening went by quickly.

Granted, the “Lost and Found” was HUGE, but other than the tweens were outstanding students. With all that goes on in America and in the school system and in society, we tend to think that kids are headed on a downhill spiral. In reality, we have some amazingly intelligent young people in our society.

Lois Class at Tween ABCKudos to these parents who are raising such bright young minds. My favorite part of the evening came during teaching my class called “idea invention.” I showed the kids a picture of a man in a kayak with the darkened image of a large shark looming in the water about 20 feet away. I then asked the kids to pose a question using “what if?” The kids came up with a lot of great “what if” questions:

  • What if the shark eats the man?
  • What if the man survives the shark attack?
  • What if the shark is the man’s best friend?

But the one I loved the most, the one that I thought a New York Times best-selling author could easily write a book about, was the answer from a 10-year-old kid who said, “What if the image of the shark is really just the man’s shadow?”

Wow! Doesn’t that sound like an intriguing novel?

 

Writing Something New

For the past four years I have been publishing an action/adventure series  that takes place in ancient Nubia. There are currently four books in the PRINCESS KANDAKE series and right now I am working on book number five, Decisions of a Queen. It started out as a labor of love for my granddaughter when she asked me one question. “Nana, where are all the beautiful brown princesses?” My research led me to creating one story that turned into a series of five books.

I have truly enjoyed all of the research that has gone into making the stories and culture as real as possible. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about history, African culture, and the rulers of past kingdoms. There were times when I got so caught up in the research that only deadlines could tear me away from the facts and occurrences of ancient times. I was surprised by the number of things in current African American culture that have their roots in ancient times on the continent of my ancestors. But now it is time for me to move on, time for me to return to my first fictional infatuation…science fiction.

Because many of my readers are accustomed to my writing about things of long ago, I determined that it might be helpful to break them in gently to the odd and strange twists of my imagination. So, last year I published a book of short stories entitled Obscura. Each tale is designed to keep the reader thinking, to cause their imaginations to carry them beyond the end of the story.

This year I will be releasing the first book of a new series that is considered contemporary science fiction…and that is only the beginning of my foray into the odd and strange. Switching gears from the old and ancient to all things new and nearly unimagined has been tough, but oh so much fun. My imagination is totally unleashed. Keep an eye out for the strange and obscure, you’re likely to find me lurking somewhere nearby.

Use your Interjections!

If you’re an American Gen X-er who’d been a zealous viewer of Saturday morning cartoons, most likely when you hear the word “Interjection” you will spontaneously break into song: “When Reginald was home with the flu, uh-huh-huh, The doctor knew just what to do-hoo…” (and experience a powerful hankering for Ovaltine. What’s up with that???).

Back in the day (the phrase my kids use when referring to that fuzzy period of my life Pre-Them), “Interjections” were an earworm that haunted me day and night. Who would’ve thunk they were actually useful in writing? Interjections convey strong emotion in cute, little, power-packed morsels. Ooh, pff, gah, bah, argh, hmphmwahaha — awwwww, huh?

So be fashionably pithy. Use your Interjections! (Yes, I also picture a wagging finger here.)

And, Gen Z-ers, if you hear your mother make a phlegmy noise that sorta sounds like “ahem,” it’s time to look up from whatever electronic device you’re using and pay attention. It’ll just get ugly from that point on.

Below are two great lists of Interjections. Tuck them away. They will come in handy.

100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections

Dictionary of Interjections

For those who must satisfy “The Earworm” I’ve awakened or who are looking for a new non-Taylor Swift ditty that will endlessly loop through your head >>> School House Rock! Interjections (Warning: No Auto-tune)

Elise Stokes, author of the Cassidy Jones Adventures series

Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate girls to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence. The stories in Cassidy Jones Adventures are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds. Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant, and Cassidy Jones and the Luminous are the first four books in the series.

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The Elusive Middle Grade Voice?

Writing blogs can be entertaining and informative. There is a long list of them that I personally subscribe to, and although I try to limit the time I spend enjoying them, I like to at least scan most of them on a regular basis, especially if I see something that catches my eye right away.

On one such blog recently, I ran across an interview that someone had conducted with a specific literary agent. I can’t recall at the time which agent it was, or even which blog I was perusing at the time, but one comment the agent made caught my attention. I believe the interviewer had asked a question regarding a wish list, and among the items the agent mentioned was the fact that he’d love to find a submission for a novel with that elusive middle grade voice. Over the next several days, I found myself repeatedly thinking about that particular comment, and what it meant for those of us who strive to find that voice, too.

In the process of thinking about that, I couldn’t help but wonder what element it is that makes the middle grade voice so elusive. I know the middle grade spans an age group from as young as eight to the early teens, so that could be part of it. And as any of you know who have children of your own, or are around children much, there is a fairly wide gap in the speech patterns and thought patterns at either end of this age range. But I also know, from reading loads of middle grade books, that a typical middle grade book usually centers around young people with an average age of twelve years. That might be a big clue as to why the middle grade voice is so elusive.

Try to recall what you were like at the age of twelve. Were you totally childish in everything you did? Or did you act and think like an adult? It probably depended largely on your upbringing, your family situation, and even the age you are currently. Thinking back to my twelve-year-old self, I know it was a very weird, wonderful, yet frightening time. I still played with dolls and loved to color, but I also was painfully aware of boys. I still wanted to tussle in the dirt with the guys over a passed football, and then hope the following day that one of them might notice my new hair ribbon. That age is a time of such fluctuation of emotions, an ephemeral time of trying to balance between two different worlds, that I understand why it can be so elusive in trying to have it make sense on paper.

But I also had another thought about this subject. Perhaps when agents read our manuscripts, they are searching for a voice that will carry them back to memories of their own youth. Maybe they are looking for the voice they heard in their own head at that age; one that will bring back all the memories of what youth was for them. That, I fear, is a daunting task, because although we all travel through that time, it is different for each of us.

If anyone has any thoughts on how to make this aspect of writing for a middle grade audience any less stressful, I would love to hear from you. How do you find that inner child that will instill a believable and interesting personality into your middle grade characters?

Thanks so much for your time, and Happy Reading!

 

When Authors Mean Business!

BeanCountingECoverAuthoring books is amazingly fun and creative and never, EVER dull . . . However, along with all that imaginative wonderment, Authors come closer to becoming mini-accountants than they realize. Why? Because once anyone becomes an official business owner, he/she crosses into the realm of accounting and taxes.

Oh, the horrors of it, right? But never fear!

When Authors Mean Business, they have propelled themselves from merely writing for “fun” to reaping well-earned monetary rewards. AND THAT IS A GOOD THING, RIGHT? Authors are not only wand-waving story weavers, but also real-world professionals running businesses that earn money. And, yes, along with that comes accounting and taxes. If that causes some of you Authors out there to squirm, just remind yourselves that it’s a sign of monetary success if your books are earning ENOUGH profits to generate said taxes. And you don’t have to figure it all out on your own!

In order to help fellow creatives with all of this business and accounting stuff, I offer a handy little guide with some important must-knows of accounting, taxation, budgeting, and planning for the future. Learn the differences between a hobby and a business; get a handle on different business structures; learn about proper bookkeeping, sales tax, common and complex tax deductions, retirement options and more!

BEAN COUNTING FOR AUTHORS-Helping Writers & Creative Business Owners Grasp Accounting & Taxes

NOW AVAILABLE!!

Counting each and every “Bean” earned may not be the idea of fun and adventure for most, but having lots of beans in the bank is a pretty great way for Authors to keep on doing what they do love most—WRITING BOOKS! And understanding some important business and financial basics is a big step toward making that happen.

head shot image extra crop colorOnce-upon-a-time, Christina Mercer worked as a CPA. Though she retired that formal hat, you can still find numbers buzzing around her head. She is also an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. She currently resides in Northern California enjoying life with her husband, sons, pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees.  WebSite | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest